Speed up regulations on crude oil transports

Daily Gazette | February 22, 2015 | Editorial

Each day, these ticking time bombs roll through our region, a catastrophe waiting to happen.

Yet the federal government continues to drag its feet on imposing new safety regulations on the oil industry to prevent train cars filled with highly explosive Bakken crude oil from endangering people and the environment.

The fireball that filled the West Virginia sky after 25 tanker cars derailed into a river during a snowstorm last Monday is yet another reminder of how much new regulations are needed and how quickly federal officials need to impose them.

Millions of gallons of Bakken crude annually pass through our region on the way to the port of Albany and elsewhere, including through Schenectady, Montgomery, Herkimer and Albany counties.

The routes carry the fuel near rivers, along interstates and through heavily populated areas.

According to a June 2014 report prepared by CSX Transportation for the New York State Emergency Response Commission, about 20 to 35 trains — each carrying 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude — pass through Schenectady County on 25 miles of track on the Selkirk line each week. About 40 to 70 such trains pass through Montgomery County during an average week, while about 20 to 35 pass through Herkimer County, and between 56 and 105 trains pass through Albany County.

That's a lot of fuel, and a lot of potential for disaster. As Albany County Executive Dan McCoy put it last week, “We're dancing with the devil.”

What happened in West Virginia; what happened in Lynchburg, Va., in April 2014 (17 cars derailed into the James River, causing fire and fuel spill); and what happened in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in June 2013 (several cars derailed, 47 people killed, more than 30 buildings destroyed), can happen here.

The cars that derailed and leaked in West Virginia were the newer generation CPC-1232 model, which is considered safer than the more common DOT-111 cars it's scheduled to replace over time. The fact that the supposedly safer models leaked and caught fire is an indication that even tougher regulations regarding thickness of tank shells, brakes, rail speeds and rollover protection are needed.

The proposed federal regulations under consideration by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, according to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, would require cars that can withstand a fire longer and travel at high speeds.

The newer CPC-1232 model, involved in both the West Virginia and Lynchburg accidents, would likely not meet any of the three proposed standards put forth by the federal DOT, Schumer said. He added that the CPC-1232 cars are “barely stronger” than the DOT-111 cars they're replacing.

The Department of Transportation isn't expected to release its recommendations for safety improvements until May, after announcing last month it would miss an earlier March 15 deadline.

Upgrading the current fleet of about 143,000 rail cars will take time — at least a couple of years. The longer the federal government drags its feet on releasing new regulations, the longer these upgrades will be delayed. And the longer the upgrades are delayed, the longer we'll have to accept the existing level of danger from spills and explosions.

If our federal state and local representatives are truly concerned about public safety and the environment, they'll step up and push harder for a much speedier resolution to this issue.


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Speed up regulations on crude oil transports
PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.